By Kenny Sui-Fung Yim
Since 1977, May has been designated as Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage month. However, for Newton resident Betty Chan, it wasn’t an annual tradition for Asian Americans to organize a celebration. She reversed that by putting together the first citywide heritage celebration on May 6, hosted by the Newton Asian Pacific American Network (NAPAN) at the Newton Free Library. Many prominent local Asian Americans came out to support NAPAN.
Chan, a clinical social worker and psychotherapist, serves as NAPAN president. Before that, she was the founding chair of a similar caucus of AAPI social workers, which worked with Amy Sangiolo, the longest-serving Asian-American alderman in Newton, as well as a member of the Greater Boston Chinese Cultural Association. “They liked my idea of having a more inclusive pan-Asian group,” Chan said.
Last year, there was a small AAPI celebration. This year’s event is citywide. Chan approached local library Director of Programs and Communications Ellen Meyers to coordinate the celebration. At the event, Chan was most proud to see a full, mixed audience.
Chan invited professor Paul Watanabe, founding director of the Asian American Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. His talk “From a Different Shore: the Invisible Minority,” included census data on Asians being the fastest-growing minority group and socioeconomic diversity, as “not all Asians are driving BMWs and have high education.” Watanabe praised groups like Chan’s for “fostering civic involvement and promoting engagement.”
NAPAN received numerous awards during the evening. Newton Mayor Setti Warren presented Chan with a citation from the City of Newton and reiterated the group’s mission statement: “They show outstanding dedication and commitment to the diversity and well-being of Newton by celebrating the cultural heritage and promoting intercultural dialogue and improving access to resources for all Asian Americans in Newton.”
State Rep. Ruth Bauser, along with state Rep. Tackey Chan, presented an award from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Bauser praised Chan for her leadership in founding NAPAN.
Cambridge City Councilor Leland Cheung presented an award from the City of Cambridge.
As for future plans, Chan said, “The demographics in Newton are changing, specifically the Asian population is increasing. Students in affluent communities like Newton are facing many pressures, like trying to get into Ivy League schools and extracurricular activities and to get all A’s. Young AAPI women have even more standards to live up to. This creates excessive stress on AAPI students. I’m hoping to get a committee of parents, clinicians, students and Newton agencies together to organize an AAPI mental health forum and address these issues.”